Tonight’s the night! Put it this way, I haven’t watched an episode of iMPACT! since around the time it left TWC for the green pastures of Bravo in early 2007. Fact. I’ve read spoilers/reports, watched (some but not all of) the PPVs and downloaded/Youtubed the odd highly touted match from iMPACT! (like all those Kong/Kim matches). But I haven’t watched a full show in almost three years. I’m going to watch tonight’s episode.
To go even further, a couple of months back a friend of mine who hasn’t watched wrestling since WCW on Channel 5 ended, was talking to me about catching Hulk Hogan on one of the wrestling shows, I believe when TNA was on Freeview, I told him ‘The Immortal One’ was set to debut in January and he was interested in watching some wrestling for the first time since ’01.
“So at the very end of the day, when people ask, “Do you think there’ll ever be another competitor to WWE?” my answer is, “I don’t think so.” When people ask, “Will you ever go head-to-head with Vince McMahon again?” my answer is, “Probably not.” But never say never.”
(Eric Bischoff with Jeremy Roberts, Controversy Creates Ca$h, Pocket Books,2006 via Now That’s What I Call Wrestling #7: Uncle Eric’s New Show )
In keeping with my weekly tradition, I’m also going to watch Raw. I’d imagine Bret Hart’s monumental return to Raw will have the same effect with many who had given up on WWE. So I expect both to get a few former fans tuning in just out of curiosity (getting them to ever watch wrestling again is much harder). So with the eyes of even some of the most jaded wrestling fans on the events of 4th January what can we expect from tonight?
As far as iMPACT! goes I am expecting something akin to the 10th April 2000 episode of Nitro (aka “The Dawn Of The New Era”) where they went all out debuting new talents, turning people heel or babyface, and concluding existing/forgotten storylines. Hogan has a lot of ego and he’s going to want his first live appearance to mean something and rightly so. I knew TNA would make a big deal out of his debut and they are. Debuting and bringing back some big names makes sense, because those who might tune in to see Hogan for the nostalgia might be tempted to watch it again if there are some faces they recognise.
As far as ratings go, the folks from the iMPACT! Zone, surely realize they stand “No Chance In Hell” of beating McMahon in the ratings, but I don’t think that’s the point. The point should be to attract more attention to TNA and “going head-to-head with Raw “/ creating a “New Monday Night War” is surely a marketing gimmick to get people talking (even if it is mainly people online) and create a bit of a buzz. I anticipate TNA using this as an opportunity to reinvent their product. How that plays out in the long term is anyone’s guess but I’m expecting them to go all out tonight. As with WCW that April a decade ago, this is their big chance at a “fresh start”. It could well turn out to be awful but that won’t be from a lack of time and effort put into tonight’s show.
As far as Raw goes, expectations are equally high. In a world in which fans have become increasingly difficult to impress, the return of the ‘Hitman’ really is exciting news. The period from Royal Rumble to WrestleMania tends to be given more attention than any other in terms of building up feuds so if the pay-off to the Hart angle is going to come at the biggest show of the year (or really two weeks later based on his contract – where I can see him finally shaking hands with HBK, Vince, and getting the send-off he always envisaged) then I expect them to go all out for it. I can’t see McMahon finally bringing back Hart to put ‘Montreal’ to bed or someone as concerned about their legacy as Bret having resigned unless promises were made that they will go all out to make the storyline a big deal. The moment when Hart’s theme tune hits and he walks out in front of the live crowd for the first time in twelve years will be one to remember. The big question is how the rest of the show will be handled and if they’ll continue to peddle the same tosh they have become so adept at churning out or whether they’ll go out there to produce a truly ‘kick arse’ show.
Most signs point to the latter. On yesterday’s Wrestling Observer radio show, Dave Meltzer said the WWE has requested USA Network allow them to go twenty minutes extra on tonight’s broadcast. Like it or not, WWE have shown that they can produce the goods for the odd one nighter when they want/need to so I’d say there’s a good chance we will get the best show since the Guest Host gimmick kicked off last year. Whether tonight is an all-time great Raw or an average one with one all-time classic moment, the problem is it is very, very likely it could be back to “business as usual” next week.
In this business it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash as ‘The Big Boys’ (with possible guest spots for Scott Hall and Sean Waltman) on one channel, Vince McMahon running a show based around Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker on the other – it feels just like 1996/97 all over again!
Perhaps I’m being too optimistic. If recent wrestling history has taught us anything it is that “Can’t Miss” angles often do and those with high expectations often walk away disappointed. Regardless of opinions on the actual quality of the product, as far as grappling in the United States goes this is the biggest night of Monday Night Wrestling since the wars finished on that fateful March night nine years ago. WWE on their own have had more important shows in the interim but in terms of ‘competition’ this is the closest we’ve come for almost a decade. Make no mistake about it, in terms of long term implications for McMahon’s competition, this is the biggest Monday night of head-to-head wrestling since the Bischoff and Russo regime’s “Dawn of a New Era Nitro”. Lets hope both sides make the most of it. Now That’s What I Call Wrestling
Carl ‘TheBigBoot’ Robinson